Can't Catch Me
by etcetera-cat
Disclaimer:  All concepts relating to the world of Velgarth, and the Tayledras people, are the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey.  The plot inconsistencies, narrative style and any speeling mistakes are the fault of etcetera-cat.
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Chapter Six- Sunbathing.

I like the sun.

I have come to this rather thoughtful conclusion after spending the better part of this morning lying in a very warm patch of sunlight on, for want of a better phrase, the roof of the Stupid Heavy Lump Man’s tree house.  It catches the sun very well, and the tree branch that crosses across the middle of it means that there’s not much chance of rolling off.

It’s also quiet up here— or rather, it was quiet until Stupid Bird turned up a moment ago and started squawking at me.  Like a chicken.

:Reeka called Reeka and not stupid chicken!:  I open one eye in time to catch the filthy glare the sun tailed hawk is giving me from his perch in the tree next to Stupid Heavy Lump Man’s.

Stretching slightly, so that my claws dig into the strange roof covering, I open my other eye and blink at the bird, who makes as much of a tutting sound as something with a beak can and mantles his feathers.  :Cat make holes in Bondmate roof!  All get wet when rains if do that.:

:I’m not making holes,:  I protest in an aggrieved voice, pulling myself into a sitting position, resting on the slanted roof and leaning against the corded hump of the large tree branch.  :My claws are hardly going to damage this pile of wood and glue, are they?:

:Not say bad things about home— Shadowstar build with hertasi, bad cat say nasty things!:  Reeka’s complaining reaches a new level of piercing as he begins to include his unfortunate Bondmate in on our current argument.

A muffled sigh drifts outwards from the side of the tree house, followed by a voice out one of the open windows; I recognise Reeka’s name at the beginning of it, but the rest is incomprehensible Tayledras in a male voice.  It makes the bird flap his wings and dive off the branch and inside through the window, however, which gives me back the peace and quiet.

I’m giving some serious thought to lying back down and absorbing some more sunlight, when the unmistakable smell of lunch reaches my nose.  My whiskers switch and I have to lick my lips as my mouth starts salivating of its own accord— this lets my stomach in on the secret and it immediately begins rumbling.  It’s been spoilt this past two weeks.

Giving in to the inevitable, plus the very real possibility of annoying Reeka further, I stand up and pad to the edge of the roof.  Leaning over the side I judge the distance from the roof to the open window below, before turning around and sliding rump first off the roof until my hind paws make contact with the window ledge and I eel my way inside, landing gracefully on the wooden floor of the room.

When that Healer person, Dawnfrost, Heals you, you get Healed good.

This is the upstairs of the tree house and it consists of a single room that is pretty much filled with a vaguely circular bed and piles of floor cushions.  I wrinkle my nose at the bed as I cross the room— although not bad smelling, it is very much a pointer that the inhabitant of this silly house-on-a-stick is male and has a stupid smelly male bird living with him— and bump the door leading onto the curving staircase with my nose.

As I enter the main room of the tree house, Reeka’s whining sendings become crystal clear again.  :--nasty things about ekele!  Bad Cat make fun of Reeka, call chicken!:  Rolling my eyes, I slide into the room and onto the large floor cushion that has unofficially become mine.

Shadowstar turns at the movement and gazes at me, the skin around his eyes twitching slightly as Reeka’s complaints reach ever more piercing heights.  I return his gaze unperturbed and twitch my whiskers.  :What’s to eat?:

He sighs softly.  In the two weeks since I dragged him out the stream and then he dragged me to this silly house-on-a-stick I have become more at ease around him… in part, I think because he is a complete soft touch.  I mean, how stupid do you have to be to bring potentially dangerous Changelings back to your home?!

The answer is; as stupid as a Heavy Lump Man.

“Reeka—“ I recognise that spoken word as the hawks name, and the warning tone finally causes him to stop whining at his Bondmate.

:On the table,: he says to me, pointing with one hand.  :Dawnfrost is going to be here in a little while.:

I ignore him whilst concentrating on the more important matter at hand; leaping towards the table and beating Reeka to the biggest rabbit carcass. Or, more accurately; beating Reeka to the biggest rabbit carcass yet again.

Victorious, with said rabbit firmly in my mouth, I give the hawk a smug look, twitch my tail and wander leisurely back to my cushion.  From the direction of the low table, I can hear Reeka making what can only be avian swear words. 

I snicker and outwardly ignore him, instead applying myself to eating the rabbit pinned beneath my front paws.

Stupid Heavy Lump Man has his own plate of food, which he picks over slowly as he watches me eat.  His expression is inscrutable, which is a relatively common experience.  I lick my whiskers and stop chewing on a leg bone to look back at him.

:I’m staring, aren’t I?:  He sounds rueful.  :I apologise. I was just…wondering, I guess.:

:About what?:  I am not really one for playing word games.

Shadowstar blinks at my directness and waves one hand about for a moment.  :Well,: he finally says, :I can’t help but notice that your um…paws… are more like, well, hands—:

:Y-es, and?:

:You… don’t seem to— use— them…?:  I glance down at my paws as Shadowstar limps to a verbal halt.

Stupid Heavy Lump Man.  I think to myself with an internal head shake.  :Oh.:  I say out loud.  After a short pause I return to gnawing on the leg bone.

He pokes at his food with a fork and flushes slightly— something that I see in my peripheral vision.  :I guess I just notice silly things—: he can say that again, :and speak before I think sometimes.:  He can say that again, as well.

Relative silence, apart from the sounds of one Changeling and one raptor having at their dinners, descends in the house-on-a-stick as the three of us continue to eat.  Having completely destroyed one thigh bone, I pile the shards up in front of my cushion and switch my attentions to the other rabbit leg with some enthusiasm.

:Bondmate here!:  The happy— and high pitched— call echoes around my head and I flinch and gather myself into a defensive posture as I look around.  That was not Reeka.

Shadowstar doesn’t seem to be bothered, instead finishing a mouthful of food.  The sun tailed hawk himself hunches over his rabbit and looks disgruntled.  :Noisy Kiiir come.:  He complains mournfully.  :Noisy Kiiir worse than nasty mean Cat!:

Ah— Kiiir is Dawnfrost’s bondbird, and she is, indeed, noisy.  I like her, though; maybe because we both seem to annoy Reeka in equal amounts.  I relax slightly, just as the brown and grey peregrine falcon alights on the ledge of one of the open windows.  :Hello Kiiir.:  I wave my tail at the bird, who flips her wings as she looks around.

:Hello stripy cat!:  She greets me cheerfully.  :Shadowstar!  Bondmate send Kiiir to say that nearly here, let down climbing sticks please!:

Shadowstar bobs his head and says something in Tayledras as a reply, before standing up and walking over to the house-on-a-stick’s front door to let down the climbing ladder.

I return my attention to chewing the last of the goodness out of the remaining rabbit leg.  I can easily hear both Shadowstar and Dawnfrost’s voices as they chatter together, the Healer’s voice getting louder as she apparently climbs up the ladder.  Within short order Dawnfrost clatters noisily into the room.

“Zhai’helleva!”  She cheerfully greets me with one of the few Bird-people words that I’ve managed to pick up.  It means ‘hello’ as near as I can guess.

:Hello.:  I add the remains of the rabbit leg to the pile of bone fragments and lick a paw to give my face a quick wash.  Shadowstar pulls the door closed as he follows Dawnfrost.  He has a strange expression on his face and I cock my head to one side as I stare at him.

:Dawnfrost has just given me some… interesting… news.:  He says finally.

I continue to eye him in a puzzled fashion, glancing over at Dawnfrost every so often.  :What?:  I finally ask, after the silence has dragged out.

“Shadowstar—“  I recognise Heavy Lump Man’s name, but the rest of Dawnfrost’s words are meaningless to me.  By the way that she’s just elbowed Shadowstar and is now wagging one finger at him as she speaks, I can get the general gist of what she’s saying.

They both turn back to me and Dawnfrost gives me an intent look, before saying something in Tayledras.  Shadowstar gives a long suffering sigh and translates for me.

:I’m relaying what Dawnfrost is saying.:  He says, the disgruntled again clear in his tone.  :Apparently I beat about the bush too much—: he breaks off and exchanges a few words with Dawnfrost.  :Which I’m still doing, apparently…:

Dawnfrost smiles at me and I twitch one ear.  :Cat—: I glance back to Shadowstar, :apparently the Council have decided that… they would like to meet you.:

I blink and rock back on my haunches, not entirely sure how to react, or even if I understand what Heavy Lump Man is saying.  :What?:

:The Council… the Elders of the Vale.  They knew about you and they’ve… decided they want to meet you.:

:Oh.:  I say blankly.  I did know that Dawnfrost and Shadowstar had had to go to some meeting or other at their Vale-place, just after I arrived.  And I did know that said meeting was about me, but neither of them really said anything about it, other than Shadowstar telling me that I was welcome to stay with him if I wanted.

Dawnfrost crosses  the room and kneels opposite me, holding out one hand as she says something.

Shadowstar makes the mental equivalent sound of clearing his throat.  :Dawnfrost says not to worry, and if anyone tries to be nasty to you, then she’ll give them a good crack over the head and then make them drink to foulest headache tea ever brewed.:

:Oh.:  I say again.  :Thank… you.:  Dawnfrost reaches out and pats me on the shoulder, before standing up.

She turns to Shadowstar and he looks briefly surprised and exclaims something.  Reeka squawks in protest at his loud voice and mantles his wings.

:Noisy Shadowstar worse than Cat and Kiiir!:

:Apparently…:  Shadowstar looks at me.  :Apparently, any time now would be good.:  He says somewhat nervously.

:Oh.:  I seem to be saying that rather a lot.  :We are going to your Vale.:  It’s a statement, rather than a question… from the way that Shadowstar and Dawnfrost are acting, it’s obvious that their ‘Elders’ are not going be stirred from their home for one little Changeling.

:Yes, Are you alright with that?:  Shadowstar eyes me in a sideways fashion and I ripple my hide in an approximation of a shrug.  I honestly don’t know how I feel, apart from suddenly nervous.  After all; myself and humans don’t have a good track record together.

Dawnfrost says something in an overly cheerful tone of voice and gestures to the doorway outside.  I stand up and stretch as both birds ruffle their feathers, before taking wing in a flurry of air and exiting out an open window, Kiiir in the lead, Reeka grumbling about ‘upstart pointy wings’.

Shadowstar moves to go upstairs, saying something in Tayledras as he waves one hand.  :I’m going to shut up the windows and meet you on the ground.:  He adds for my benefit.

I complete my stretch and wander out onto the open sided platform built onto the front of Shadowstar’s house-on-a-stick.  Dawnfrost is already part way down the swaying rope ladder and I twitch my whiskers.  I do not like that thing and, after one attempt to use it, I am sure the feelings would be reciprocated if it wasn’t a bundle of ropes and wood.

I prefer my own method of getting down; which is to step down onto the wide branch that runs along the left side of the porch and walk along until it intersects with the equally large branch from the next tree along.  From that branch, it’s merely a matter of balance, jumping and occasional bits of climbing, to get down to the forest floor.  Admittedly, the patch of forest floor I land on is not really that near the tree that the ekele is in, but if it means not having to use the ladder, I don’t mind at all.

I lope easily back towards Shadowstar’s tree, and I’m surprised to be met by, not only Dawnfrost, but Nadran as well.  I stop and eye the dyheli up and down for a moment, before continuing at a slow walk towards them.

:Hello Cat.:  Nadran greets me in a cordial fashion, bobbing his head low and stepping forwards so that we briefly touch noses.  :I have something for you.:

I sit down and look at the deer-like creature carefully.  He returns my gaze steadily.  :Oh?:  I finally ask.  I really seem to be saying that a lot today.

:Yes, the dyheli herd… along with a few others… took our own kind of vote.:  Nadran twitches an ear in Dawnfrost’s direction, but keeps looking at me.  :We have decided that it is time to give you the Tayledras language.:

I’m sure I’d look a Hell of a lot less confused if I had the faintest idea what Nadran just said.  :Give me what?:  I manage.

:The Tayledras language.:  Nadran twitches his flanks as a fly buzzes past.  :King stags like myself have the ability to… well, I guess the simplest way to put it is; we can move ‘packages’ of information from one person’s head to another, if needed.:

:Like… languages…?:  I say faintly.

Nadran looks pleased.  :Exactly so.  I have already acquired the language I need from Dawnfrost, and merely need your permission to implant it.:

I stare up at him, then slide my eyes sideways to Dawnfrost.  She makes a reassuring gesture and smiles hopefully at me as she says something.

:Dawnfrost says it would eliminate having to use Shadowstar as her translator… so you could have proper conversations.:  Nadran says.

:I… guess…: I say uncertainly.  :What would I have to do?:

:Simply let me through your shields for a moment.:  Nadran says calmly.  I freeze and stare at him for a moment.  Let someone through my shields?  They are pretty much the only thing I have that has ever been under my control!  The dyheli waits quietly as I argue with myself.

Lowering my shields would present him with the perfect opportunity to hurt— possibly even kill— me, Hell, just look at what happened when he thought I was going to eat Reeka.  But… on the other hand, I’ve no doubt that if he wanted to, then he could very well breach my shields with no permission required.  And… to be perfectly honest, what have I got to lose?

:O-kay—:  I agree slowly, before pausing, slightly unsure on how to lower my shields to Nadran.  In the end I settle for ‘widening’ the place where I can hear his Mindspeech.

The very next thing I know, I am lying sprawled on my front on the leaf litter, and there is a strange ringing sound in my ears.

:Unfortunately, the best and least painful method of doing this does require a large element of surprise.:  Nadran voice sounds apologetic.  I gather my paws underneath myself and haul myself into a sitting position and find myself staring at a somewhat shocked looking Shadowstar.

“What did you do?”  I flatten my ears at the loudness, then start with shock.

:I can understand you!:  I announce in a shocked tone of voice.

“Oh good, it worked… I wasn’t sure if it would be a bit different since you’re not exactly human and I’ve only seen it performed on humans before now.”  The warm female voice is Dawnfrost’s and she squats next to me and holds out one hand.  “Hello,” she says cheerfully.

:Hello—: I reply faintly, my attention mainly concentrated inwards.  Along with this sudden understanding of the Tayledras language, I also seem to have gotten a whole bundle of ideas and…well, explanations is the only way I can think of describing them.

Like… I somehow know that Dawnfrost, as well as being a Healer, is more specifically someone called a trondi’irn, who specialises in non-human Healing.

“You can what?”  Shadowstar’s yelp brings my attention crashing back to reality.  The scout is staring at Nadran, Dawnfrost and myself in turn, his expression shocked and slightly incredulous.  “Do the Elders know that you were going to do this?”

:It was decided independently by the Vale dyheli herd and a few associates.:  Nadran says with aplomb.

Shadowstar sighs and rubs his forehead with one hand.  “Right,” he says.

:I can understand you.:  I marvel again, before coming to a realisation.  :Ow!:  I flatten my ears and wince as the headache sets in from nowhere.

“Oops, drink this.”  Dawnfrost has rummaged in her ever-present bag and produced a small bottle, the cork of which she has already removed before offering it to me. 

I manage to grasp it in one paw and give it a slightly suspicious, if somewhat squinty, look.  It smells… herbal.

“It’s a ready made headache tea, drink up.”  Dawnfrost insists and I glance at her through suddenly watering eyes and comply.

Luckily, my mouth seems to be a bit slow on the uptake and I’ve swallowed most of the damned thing before the taste pounces on me.  :Argh—:  I splutter and drop the empty bottle before shooting it a poisonous glare and pawing at my mouth.  :Citrus!  I hate citrus!:

Dawnfrost picks up the bottle.  “But that’s one of the nice tasting ones.”  She protests aggrievedly.

:Yuck, yuck, yuck—:  I make a show of spitting and pawing at my mouth.

“Oh,” the Healer looks suddenly embarrassed.  “Cats don’t like citrus things, do they?”

:That tasted horrible.:  I tell her.

“Here—“ She pulls out a small disc of something from a pocket and offers it to me.  “This honey sweet should get rid of the taste.”  She bundles the empty bottle back in her bag and rearranges it on her shoulder after I’ve grabbed the sweet.

I chew on the honey-treat, once getting past the hard outside, the inside is sticky and really overly sweet, but at least it’s bearable and it’s getting rid of the taste of that horrendous tea.

:We should go to the Vale now.:  Nadran announces suddenly, before setting the example and beginning to walk off.  After a moment, Dawnfrost stands up and follows him, nudging Shadowstar as she passes him.  The scout still looks to be a bit shell-shocked.

I gamely swallow down the remains of the honey sweet and wipe the side of my mouth with one paw before standing up and loping after the trio to catch up with them.

For some reason, the prospect of walking straight into a den of fearsome Bird-people doesn’t seem as scary as it did before.


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